Already, we have covered a big chunk of ethical ground. It will be helpful to summarize briefly…
We learned that if we seek to determine our ethics on the basis of consequences we drown in a sea of necessity. We must always maximize the good in every little decision. Because the good is hard to determine and because the future of our consequences is impossible to forecast accurately, we become paralyzed by an ethic of consequentialism. Shaw sought to remedy this dilemma by proposing that we aim at “the best consequences reasonably considered.” Neither he nor any of the other consequentialists, however, could answer why we needed to act morally at all. We make the sacrifice for greater good? This question is the question at the heart of contract theory, too.
The Virtue theorists tried to give an answer to that question in that they focused not on the consequences of our actions but the consequences of our character. They rightly pointed out for us the truth that our actions flow out of the kind of person we are. Our moral fabric determines the shape of our moral quilt (and guilt). The problem with virtue is deciding whose virtue (or what virtue) is actually virtuous.
So, now we will take another run at morality. This time, we will begin asking whether reason is able to give us the foundation we need for determining ethics. Can we individually or collectively reason our way to morality? In this section, we will look at the third broad category of ethics. We have looked at consequentialism. We have looked at Virtue ethics. Now, we will explore deontological ethics.
The goal of deontology is to determine obligation and base your ethics on your obligations. One ought to do his duty. Believe it or not, even in a Postmodern age, there are many scholars (both Christian and secular) who still advocate for fixed morality and deontological duty. For deontologists, the issue is definitely not seeking a good end. The issue is doing what is right and doing it because it is the right thing to do. We will begin looking now at how one knows the right thing to do.